This retro tuned Honda Civic EF may at first appear to be all Dr Jekyll. But that boisterous aero suggests it’s got a Hyde side, too. And it really does. A search and destroy mentality is seeking out prey on your local race track…
Hidden depths. We all like to think we have them. “Sure, I’m watching TOWIE again,” we say to ourselves. “But I’m enjoying it on an ironic level. I might read some Wodehouse later, or pop down to the Hockney exhibition at the Tate.” Most of us offer something beyond that which is displayed upon the surface. Some more so than others: the pensioners who run marathons, the gameshow contestants with PhDs, the gym rats who can play piano by ear. And so it is with late-’80s and early-’90s Hondas.
These are cars that used to be everywhere, then not quite so much, and have now fallen into relative obscurity, aside from the top-flight sporty models. Regardless of scarcity, however, cars like the Honda Civic EF, such as the one you see here, carry a certain weight of expectation. You see one, you expect to find a grey-haired plodder behind the wheel. It’ll be bumping off the supermarket trolley bay before grunting all the way home in first gear. And yet all is not as it seems with Joe Purcell’s EF.
Well, you’d sort of spotted that already, hadn’t you? That sodding great spoiler’s a bit of a giveaway. “People do laugh at the wing,” he grins. “But I know it works, so I just laugh right back.” We love the haters, bless ’em. They can scoff and lol and say ‘How much rear downforce do you need on a front-wheel-drive car?’ (as if aerodynamics really is that black and white). But let’s just see if they can keep up in the corners.
This, then, is not your stereotypical 1990-spec Civic. It’s a bit more mischievous. But with someone of Joe’s enthusiasm, this kind of thing was simply bound to happen. “I’ve always played and tinkered with cars since a young age,” he explains. “Usually I would buy a car and just lower it and put some wheels on, but this was different. I’d sold my E30 BMW and really wanted a Civic, and I was keen for it to be something you don’t see every day. I found this EF for sale in the Midlands, organised some transport, and went to take a look.”
What he found was pretty much the manner of machine you’d expect from an ageing OAP-spec runabout – cracked windscreen, missing trim, that sort of thing, although on the whole it wasn’t too bad. So he decided to take a punt. It quickly spiralled way beyond what Joe had taken on before, though – this would be something a little fancier than merely a drop-job and a set of rims.
OK, it wasn’t quite OAP-spec. The seller had been having a bit of fun with it, and the car came into Joe’s possession with a B16 turbo motor already in place. “I ran that engine until it failed,” he says, “and then I had a fully-forged B16 built. Although it suffered a few issues and I thought that maybe I should just go back to a naturally aspirated engine. And then I found a B20 block and a B18C4 head for sale not too far away, and it was decision made. I bought that to go in it, and here it is now!”
There were a number of letters and numbers there, so let’s walk you through it: the B16 is a 1.6-litre variant of Honda’s B-Series engine, a twin-cam VTEC motor like you’d find in a CRX or Civic SiR (or, in fireball B16B form, the EK Civic Type R). The B20 block he has now came out of a CR-V, a non-VTEC 2.0-litre, which has been re-VTECed by the application of the B18C4 head, which is something you’d usually expect in a late-’90s Civic VTi. Clear? Cool.
Now, this may all sounds like some kind of mechanical engineering witchcraft, and it sort of is really, which makes it all the more impressive that Joe’s done all of the build work himself. And once he had it all nailed together, he got it on the rollers to tweak it and see what it could do.
“The engine was mapped by Romain Levesque,” he says, “and it made 180bhp. With a set of Integra cams we should see around 205bhp. As the car is, it drives really well and pulls hard!”
This is just the sort of power that would turn a granny-spec EF into a hell of a sleeper, but that was never Joe’s intention. The mighty BYC wing, which is effectively a stout metal middle finger to the naysayers, is joined by a unique front splitter/airdam combo of his own creation, which neatly follows the lines of the aggressively right-angled BYC sideskirts. See how it all flows organically? It may not have been wind-tunnel tested, but this is a pukka aero setup for a car with a hilariously entertaining power-to-weight ratio.
“Inside the car, the rear has been all stripped to nothing,” he says. Peering through the side windows you can see that, yes, it’s effectively just an unadorned shell at the tail end. Properly minimalist. “I’ve left the carpet in the front, as it doesn’t really weigh anything,” he says. You’ll also spot he’s bolted in some fairly serious OMP buckets on custom runners (a pair of them, because sometimes it’s fun to terrify a passenger – you’ve seen Death Proof, right?). And he’s even tucked a race battery in there. This EF is now the sort of featherweight that even a second trip to the breakfast buffet could make a tangible difference to the 0-60 times.
Despite the car’s Frankenstein nature, there’s just no way to keep that irrepressible Honda reliability down either. It’s baked right in. “I use the car often to go to work,” he says, “and I’m always taking it out for a drive just for the sake of it. It’ll be seeing a few track days this year too.”
We’ll be keeping an eye out for that – and an ear too. There’s nothing quite like the rasp of a retro VTEC as it comes on song and hits the crossover zone. “I’ll be looking to fit a full rollcage soon as well,” he muses. It appears we’ve caught this car at an interesting stage of its evolution. It’s gone from anonymous, unloved old clunker to race-honed rev-nutter, and it’s only a matter of time before Joe’s turned it into a full-on #becauseracecar competition maniac.
It mirrors his own evolution – this isn’t just a drop and a set of wheels, is it? The build plunges into the hidden depths of the EF Civic, with its breadvan styling that makes it more mini-estate than hatchback, extracts all the untapped potential, smooshes it into a tight ball and rubs it in everyone’s faces. There’s more to this Honda than you think. See you at 8,000rpm, yeah?
TECH SPEC: EF CIVIC
BYC Designs rear win,; BYC Designs side skirts; homemade front airdam/splitter; Garage Midnight sunstrip
B20 block; B18C4 head; Skunk2 Ultra Series inlet manifold, Skunk2 Black Series 68mm throttle body, Skunk2 carbon-composite fuel rail; RDX 410cc injectors; AEM fuel pressure regulator; Hypertech big-tube exhaust manifold; AEM V2 cold air intake; stock gearbox.
7x15in Ronal Turbos; 195/50 Yokohama A048 tyres; BC coilovers; adjustable front upper camber arms; 262mm front discs with EBC Yellowstuff pads; 242mm rears; Comma 5.1 brake fluid.
Stripped; OMP bucket seats on custom rails; K-Tuned short shifter; OMP steering wheel; 6two1 weighted gearknob; race battery behind passenger seat.
I would like to say thank you to Mark at BYC Designs for the spoiler and skirts; Romain for the awesome map; and Tegiwa for some of the parts; my dad, who kept pushing me to finish it; my girlfriend, for helping where she could; and friends who helped; and big thanks to Neil and nostalgia collection for the outstanding photos.
Words Dan Bevis Photos Neil Sterry